WHAT COULD be termed as the Railway’s loss might soon turn out to be Tourism’s gain in Madhya Pradesh. After the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) scuttled Indian Railways’ plan of connecting World Heritage Site Bhimbetka in Raisen district near Bhopal with a direct rail link, the latter is learnt to have turned to the MP State Tourism Development Corporation (MPSTDC) to take over some railway gang huts existing at the proposed railway station site and develop them for tourist purposes.
UNESCO had declared Bhimbetka – where hundreds of antediluvian caves and rock paintings exist - a World Heritage Site in 2002.
According to the ASI, some of the Bhimbetka paintings are as old as 25,000 years - co-periodic with the oldest rock paintings of France, Italy, Spain, Siberia, parts of America and South Africa. The style and the superimposition patterns in the paintings in Raisen district - mainly Bhimbetka complex - prove that the paintings are pre-historic.
It is mostly due to the conservation efforts for Bhimbetka that the ASI has presently opened up just 13 or 14 caves for tourists while there are roughly 200 to 250 rock shelters in the area.
Some time ago, Railways had proposed construction of a railway station at Bhimbetka to establish a proper rail link at the archaeological site. However, as the site of the proposed railway station fell inside the buffer zone, the ASI had objected to it lest the World Heritage Monument might suffer the ill effects of pollution and the delicate artistry of the paintings be tampered. The plan was eventually rejected.
Subsequently, the Railways – through the West-Central Railway (WCR) Division – approached MPSTDC to take up the site and construct some tourist facilities there. “The WCR on October 6 sent us the proposal for taking over ten 20-year-old railway inspection huts at Bhimbetka,’’ well-informed sources in the MPSTDC told the Hindustan Times on Tuesday.
“MPSTDC has accepted the proposal and sent its reply to the WCR on October 11,’’ sources added. Now, only the WCR Headquarter Jabalpur’s final clearance was awaited and that too was expected very soon, sources maintained.
MPSTDC MD Ashwani Lohani said there would be two major USPs of the Bhimbetka project – to be worth about Rs 35 lakh. “The caves are clearly visible from the inspection huts and trains pass regularly from the main track located just about 12 feet away from the huts,’’ Lohani pointed out.
He added MPSTDC planned to construct about four residential rooms, a restaurant, a tourist information centre, public conveniences, landscaping, vehicle parking and other facilities at the site.
This time round, the ASI has also approved the proposal. “Since the plan envisages creation of basic facilities at the site, we have no objection to it,’’ ASI Bhopal Circle Superintendent Archaeologist Mohammad K K said.